Back home to KAASO – where the water doesn’t flow but the smiles are wide…

Back in my world of wide eyes and even wider smiles and little hands that find my own. After six weeks on the road it really did feel like coming home pulling into KAASO where children came running to greet us from all directions. It’s like being a celebrity in a middle-of-nowhere, rural Uganda kind of way.

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We had barely jumped off our motorbikes when we were taken by the hand and led on what felt like a glory tour around the school, hearing shouts as children ran from dormitories, racing over to welcome us home. We were given Ugandan hugs – i.e. being launched at with such force that last time we returned from a trip I ended up with a bruise on my hip bone.

We soon discovered that two months had not been enough time to fix the broken water pump and the children were still having to carry water from the well in jerry cans on their heads – this was ‘Africa time’ in the extreme. Energised from our trip and feeling the full motivation of just-returned-ness, Cherie and I decided the next day to go to the well with the children to fetch our own water rather than going out of minds with no water to bathe, wash clothes – or flush our toilet. I don’t think we quite realised what we were in for. We followed the children through the school, past several mud huts, through the forest, into a field where we continued to walk until we finally spotted the well – at the bottom of a rather large hill. Trying not to look fazed, we traipsed down the mud path until we got to the well. There was a crowd of children filling their jerry cans and no line that I could decipher but the children seemed to have some kind of system arranged between them. From what I could gather, it was largely based on hierarchy. Being two red-faced muzungus, we did not feature in this hierarchy.

Eventually, we realised that we would wait all day unless we just shoved our jerry cans under the water spout, pumped by a small child that seemed happy to continue pumping for us. We ambitiously filled two 10L jerry cans each then quickly realised our mistake; most of the children had one 5L jerry can. Yes, we were much bigger than most of them but not necessarily much stronger. We struggled back along the dirt track, having to pause embarrassingly frequently along the way. It was hugely satisfying to make it back to school and the looks on the teachers’ faces was worth the effort when they saw the two of us emerge amongst the children carrying our own jerry cans. Unfortunately we got distracted by the gorgeous nursery children who came running out to see us; many of them we hadn’t seen since we got back so we picked them up and spun them around and chatted as best you can with a 5-year-old Ugandan child. It wasn’t until some time later that we turned around to realise our jerry cans had gone. We searched everywhere until we finally asked Rose in desperation – ‘Where would you take a jerry can if you were a small child?’ To the kitchen, she smiled. Back down across the school and there were our jerry cans lined up neatly outside the children’s kitchen – a wooden shack with a fire and giant cauldron-like pot full of porridge. We grabbed our jerry cans and vowed to take more care next time – if we could manage a next time…

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Adventures in Maasailand

The roof of the bus was loaded to the heavens with baskets, chickens, sacks of rice, people and two Kathmandu packs. Inside were dozens of old men, women, children, babies, more chickens and two dusty Kiwis.

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The road looked more like a dried up river bed than anything passable for a 4WD, never mind a bus and it almost got the better of us. At one point we had to all jump out as the yellow bus rocked wildly, stuck in the sand and they thought we might tip over – so better to watch from the sidelines. Somehow the bus was freed without flipping and we continued into the wild. We were dropped on the side of the road (in what turned out to be the wrong town) where we waited. And waited. Eventually two lone motorbikes appeared on the horizon, pulled up in front of us and motioned to get on the back. We assumed they were for us. We sped over more dusty roads as the sun set over Mt Kilimanjaro, rising spectacularly before us. We swerved onto a bridge made from branches and pulled up outside a wooden house in the bush. A man with circles branded onto each cheek, the mark of the Maasai, came from the house and extended his arms in greeting – supa! We had arrived in Maasailand, our home for the coming days…

I have never experienced such incredible hospitality, such generosity, such kindness of spirit, such a desire to teach or such a passion to preserve a unique and beautiful culture as my time with the Maasai. Tumaina, our host, went out of his way to ensure we felt at home – despite being so far away from home in every possible sense. We were warmly welcomed by the entire community of Rombo, a Maasai settlement on the Kenya/Tanzanian border in the shadow of Mt Kilimanjaro and from the moment we arrived, Tumaina made sure we were well looked after. There was hot water waiting for us to bathe (in a bucket but it still felt like luxury), rice and beans to eat, sweet Maasai tea to drink, and waiting under our pillows were beautiful beaded necklaces that his mother had made for our arrival. We were blown away.

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Tumaina was determined to teach us the ways of the Maasai and the first morning was a hilarious occasion – he left the two city girls in the bush to start a fire and keep it going to cook our omelettes (Maasai style) and heat milky tea for breakfast. Inevitably we used all the wrong wood and leaves and the fire went out but he patiently showed us which ones worked best, which ones they used in the bush and soon the fire was roaring. We cooked up a feast – there was no way we were ever going to go hungry here, despite there being the worst drought in living memory with carcasses of cows littering the bush, we were to eat like queens.

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A friend of Tumaina’s arrived to take us to visit his house. When I asked him where he lived, he replied ‘On the border with Tanzania.’ That sounded like an adventure. And far away. And of course we were to use the only transport possible – our legs. Two hours in the scorching sun through land drier than I have ever seen in my life, past withered cows and people (Mayeni, our host for the day, told us that 70% of the Maasai cows had been lost this season and the elderly are also dying – not from hunger or thirst but from broken hearts – here cows are valued as highly as people) until we finally reached a dusty crossroads with nothing but a donkey to mark the spot. This was the border with Tanzania.The Maasai do not recognise the difference between Kenya and Tanzania – this is Maasailand and they live within it. The government and others can make arbitrary borders but this is their land and there is no distinction made between the Maasai from either side – they are one people, united, strong and proud.

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